Looking out for others has always come naturally to Don Oliver. At an early age, Oliver trained in martial arts under a Japanese sensei, adopting their core beliefs of respect, harmony and service to others as his own.

Oliver, now a Kickstart karate instructor at Houston Middle School, instills these same values in his students through mentoring. 

“I’ve been at Houston Middle for five years so I’ve been a mentor for five years,” he says proudly. “Even as a substitute, I was constantly engaged with the kids.” 

And the students gravitate to him. His calm yet funny demeanor provides a comfortability that students want in a mentor. 

Imani Cleckley, eighth grader at Houston, is one of Oliver’s mentees, and she has seen tremendous growth in herself. When she first arrived at Houston in sixth grade, she had her guard up and didn’t allow anyone to get close. 

“I was going to end up as someone that you didn’t want to be around and didn’t want to talk to. But I wanted to be approachable,” she says. “Mr. Oliver was a big help in helping me become more responsible and mature.”

Imani’s wall is now broken down, and she has started utilizing the lessons that Mr. Oliver taught her – seeing the good in others, showing respect to everyone and embracing all no matter the difference – to connect with others that might need a positive influence in their lives, just like she needed. 

Oliver is very proud of Imani, and her progress within the past three years at Houston. “Imani has grown so much in the way she interacts with people. She’s learned to take from every resource that she can and apply it,” he says proudly. “She is full of energy, intelligent but also kind and considerate to others.”

And there are many more students like Imani in Irving ISD that need a mentor to create a safe space for honest conversations and positive influences. If you are interested in becoming a mentor and making a difference in students’ lives, contact Irving ISD’s Triple M Program at 972-600-5027.